Interview with Rebecca Levingston on ABC Brisbane Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Working holiday makers; new Tourism Australia campaign ‘Australia Inc’.
14 March 2019

Rebecca Levingston: Today in Brisbane there is a bigtourism conference. The Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham is flying infor it, Minister good morning what's the next pitch?

Simon Birmingham: Good morning Rebecca, great tobe with you. Well we're running a number of campaigns at present across the USmarket where we're still running with a very updated modern version of theDundee campaign. We've got campaigns happening in Asia and parts of Europearound 'Undiscover Australia' and we have particular campaigns in relation tonow working holiday makers. We are really trying to lift the numbers of youngpeople under 30 who come to Australia who spend part of their time working, butspend a lot more of their time spending across our tourism sector.

Rebecca Levingston: Reportedly Tourism Australiasays there's a shift away from working holidays, is that true?

Simon Birmingham: We have seen a small decline insome markets and so we're looking to try to reverse that and we want to getthose younger tourists back to Australia. We know that when they come here theynot only spend what they earn, but they spend the savings they brought withthem, sometimes I go back to mom and dad and ask for a little bit more as well.So we're investing seven and a half million dollars in a campaign particularlytargeting some of the European markets to try to lift the numbers. We currentlyhave around 304,000 working holiday makers and about 50 percent of them maketheir way to Queensland and especially of course work in seasonal agriculturalindustries, seasonal parts the tourism industry and a really important part ofthe labour market.

Rebecca Levingston: Well Minister on that, recentlyon ABC Radio Brisbane we've been taking a close look at backpackers working,fruit picking on farms. I'm going to play you a little, about a minute or so ofaudio here that is the story of Harry and his experience.

Harry: So we line up and one of the first things thatwould happen, actually on my first day the guy in front of me in the linedidn't write his name in capital letters and as she saw that she said I toldyou if you don't write your name in capital letters, you are not working forme, get off my farm now. And made him walk about a kilometre onto the main roadand he hitchhiked back into Bundaberg. I actually saw one guy get fired forgoing to the toilet in the bush because the type of toilet break she neededwasn't one that could happen in the lanes.

Rebecca Levingston: So Minister that was onebackpacker I spoke to, four others who shared similar experiences and as youknow when people have a negative experience they will go and talk to theirfamily and their friends about that. How worried are you about making sure thatbackpackers have a good experience and share that good news?

Simon Birmingham: Well there is a realresponsibility on particularly those parts of the Australian industry whoemploy working holidaymakers and rely upon them to be able to get their fruitpicked or work in their businesses at those seasonal times of year, to makesure that they are treating them with the same respect anybody else wouldexpect in the workplace.

Rebecca Levingston: But clearly, sorry to interruptbut clearly that's not happening because I also spoke to Steve Ronson from theFair Work Ombudsman Office, here's what he told me.

Steve Ronson: With Harry's story, I'm afraid to say that it'srarely a week that goes by without us receiving several stories, multiplestories describing dreadful working conditions for backpackers. Basicallythere's almost like a deliberate obfuscation by a range of people involved inthis for the supply chain whether that be from the hostel, whether it be thetransport provider, the accommodation provider, there are people who even wouldyou believe will extort workers, they're called job brokers, they callthemselves 'job brokers' but they will say you pay me some money and I'll findyou a job. I mean it really is a dreadful situation and just for theinternational reputation perspective, it's it's bad for Australia. I meanwithin the ecosystem, social media is obviously a way that workers can connectwith each other and also send messages out and it's not a good look on Facebookfor example as workers describe the conditions varied and what they're goingfor.

Rebecca Levingston: Yeah bad for business bad fortourism for sure.

Steve Ronson: It is, it's it's awful and it's just it's adreadful experience and when we go through the courts and we take certainemployers to court many times the judges will, and these are federal judges andthey'll say this is a blight on Australia's reputation.

Rebecca Levingston: Steve Ronson from The Fair WorkOmbudsman Office. Simon Birmingham is the Federal Tourism Minister who today inBrisbane will launch a new campaign to boost tourism, a part of that isattracting working holidaymakers. Minister would you be better spending some ofthat money on a crackdown on dodgy labour hire companies?

Simon Birmingham: Well let me give a very clearmessage to the employees who may do the wrong things, the unscrupulousemployers out there off the back of what the Fair Work Ombudsman there hassaid. That is that when we provide information to visitors to Australia aboutthe safety and precautions they should take while they're here, we also makesure that there is information available for workers who come to Australiaabout the Fair Work Ombudsman, how to get in touch, the rights and obligationsthat exist on employers and as you can hear, people are using the Fair WorkOmbudsman Services and the Fair Work Ombudsman is taking employees to court andtaking action. So whether it's an Australian worker or a working holiday makercoming here or the backpacker, employers who do the wrong thing should knowthat they are at risk of being caught and absolutely the book should be thrownat those who do abuse their employee.

Rebecca Levingston: Minister this campaign that youare launching today is called 'Australia Inc', as you said primarily aimed atthe European backpacker market. So what we've seen in the past I remember atone stage Alexander Downer was in a London train station with sand and sort oflifesavers over there. What form will the campaign take?

Simon Birmingham: This campaign, unsurprisingly inthe modern era, it targets very much social media platforms. It will involveposters and other features in train stations and the like and some of theimagery is of course playing on the good sense of humor that you would expectsAustralia to have. The images of people going off with their surfboards withthe tagline inviting people that you can start the day in the office in theboardroom. And it really is about pitching that message that you can come DownUnder, you can have a working holiday, you can have a whole lot of fun whileyou here, you can partly self fund the holiday by pursuing different jobs whileyou're here and it is of course a rite of passage that many have undertaken intheir lives over the years and we want to encourage many more to do so in thefuture.

Rebecca Levingston: Yeah I wouldn't mind starting myday in the surfboard room.

Simon Birmingham: You and me both.

Rebecca Levingston: Minister just finally, did thePrime Minister Scott Morrison, it was him who, did he come up with the line'where the bloody hell are you' or he was just involved in that campaign?

Simon Birmingham: Well he was the ManagingDirector of Tourism Australia at the time so that's a big part of hisbackground and that's why he's so passionate about supporting the tourismindustry. I heard our current Managing Director asked about that the other day,he was saying that marketing lines of course if people remember them and isstill talking about them years later that's usually quite a positive thing andof course in a lot of those markets particularly the US the European typemarkets, it was quite a successful campaign that Scott Morrison led at thetime.

Rebecca Levingston: Minister good to talk to you.Bring your deodorant to Brisbane today, it's pretty hot. So when you fly in,you'll notice the difference between Adelaide and Bris Vegas. Thanks for yourtime.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you.

Media enquiries